Well, we always say the LSU-Auburn rivalry is a weird one. Is it weird that Auburn blew this game open? Not necessarily. Auburn's a good team, and LSU's certainly had issues on defense. Weird that a freshman would wet the bed in his first start in an incredibly hostile environment? Not necessarily.
But...like that? Nobody saw that coming.
LSU averaged 7.3 yards per carry on first down in the first half of this football game. They held Auburn to three yards or less on first down 11 times in that half. If you would have offered me those two numbers before this game started, I would have taken them with a smile.
And yet Auburn put the Tigers in a 31-7 hole in the first half while LSU did not pick up a SINGLE third-down conversion. LSU consistently failed to make plays or create any real momentum. The pile of shit just kept rolling down hill and getting bigger and bigger and the result was one of the worst smackdowns in the Golden Age of LSU football. The Tigers are out of the major rankings, 4-2 with six games remaining, none of which seem all that winnable right now.
So if you're ready to give up and jump off the bandwagon, I guess you have your excuse.
So let's take a look at what happened here:
- I focused mostly on the first half, because well, once this game got to 31-7, there was little chance of both the LSU offense getting everything together AND Auburn coughing up some turnovers to give LSU additional chances.
- At quarterback, the coaching staff is going to have some very hard questions to ask themselves regarding Brandon Harris. I don't really know what they could have done to make this game any easier for him. I know there's a lot of talk about I-formation/spread, play-calling all that. Would I have maybe thrown a few more passes on first down? Maybe.
But here's the thing. It worked. Or it should have. LSU was consistently on schedule early in this one. They found nice room running the ball on first down, and from there they either derped their way into a longer third down through penalties or bad mistakes, or simply failed to pick up the short-yardage play. And even then, Harris simply could not hit receivers that, more often than not, were open. Frankly, he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn throwing a beach ball.
This wasn't Mississippi State, where short first-down plays led to obvious passing downs.
- Were it that bad passes were Harris' only mistakes. Bailing on good pockets too soon, turning the wrong way on running plays again, and fumbling snaps. Yeah, I know Harris didn't play under center in high school, but guess what: he's been working on snaps from under a center for 10 months now. That's not an excuse anymore.
- The ankle injury to Harris might bring Anthony Jennings back into the lineup this week, and honestly, I don't know if that's good or bad. It's bad that Harris played poorly enough to bring it into the conversation, obviously, but maybe a trip to the bench will calm him down. He certainly wouldn't be the first QB to be better coming off the bench than starting, and honestly right now LSU has to find some kind of way to find some confidence for both of these quarterbacks.
- And there's still the problem of the interior offensive line, which couldn't find any kind of room in short-yardage situations. There's going to be a lot of "yeah well five can't block seven or eight" #narrative. Guess what -- if the defensive line is getting into the backfield on its own it doesn't matter how many men are in the box. And when it's third-and-2, those numbers just don't matter. You don't even have to create that much room.
- Nothing sums up this game on offense better than LSU's third possession: nine-yard run by Darrel Williams on first down, Harris botches a handoff on second down for a loss and Magee gets held to a 1-yard gain on third-and-2. Punt. So LSU gained nine yards on first down and STILL went three and out. I'd love for somebody to find the probability of ANY offense going three-and-out in that situation.
- On the other side of the ball, the Tiger defense would best be encapsulated by Auburn's second score, the 56-yard touchdown by Sammie Coates. In position, only to not make the play when the ball arrived. It's second and 18, Auburn's behind the chains and they take a shot down the field to a covered player. Rashard Robinson couldn't have been in better position, goes up to pay the ball, takes a swing and just...misses. The ball sails right into Coates' hands and he hustles his way into the endzone.
- That was the story of LSU on the night. With the exception of Nick Marshall's nine-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah -- a smart alignment from Auburn with Uzomah as an eligible tackle in an unbalanced offensive line that completely caught the defense unaware -- the Tiger defense did most of what they needed to do. They maintained leverage. They forced plays where they needed them to go, they had a defender in the alley and then...nothing. And against an offense like Auburn, those missed tackles just compounded every drive. Never mind the effect of the offense failing to stay on the field.
- Missed opportunity: LSU finally gets in the endzone, cuts the game to 17-7. Marshall stares down an intermediate throw, Kendell Beckwith is in perfect position, slightly misplays the ball and tips it. Ricky Jefferson just misses a diving catch to make the interception. The ball probably should have been intercepted twice.
- If there are two players that can hold their heads up high on this defense, they're Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. Hunter was everywhere in pursuit, finishing with 12 tackles and probably missing four or five more. Rasco wasn't quite as productive, but played his responsibilities well and helped funnel a couple of plays to nearby defenders. Hunter and Rasco didn't make many plays in the backfield, but from their unblocked positions they managed to bottle up a number of run and pass plays near the line of scrimmage.
- Tashawn Bower, on the other hand, got juked badly a couple of times as the unblocked man. Including on Marshall's first touchdown run.
- Too many players were handled one-on-one by the Auburn offensive line, but at the second level missed steps and missed tackles were costly, and as I said earlier, it just kept adding up. Examples include Jamal Adams getting too flat and out of position to fit versus Cameron Artis-Payne's big first-quarter run. Lamar Louis failing to pursue to the hole on Marshall's QB draw on the first drive. D.J. Welter taking too flat of an angle on a swing pass to Artis-Payne. Beckwith missing Coates on a tackle on a scramble play by Marshall to set up Auburn's last touchdown of the first half.
- Silver lining? Got me. Is LSU as far away on defense as it seems? Probably not. You fail to move the ball like that, and games like this only get uglier. I'm sure that some will want to hear about the horrible game plans on both sides of the ball, but that wasn't the case for either coordinator. On offense, the offensive line issues aren't going away. At quarterback, Harris is damn sure capable of better than this, and I'm willing to bet that if he's in these same positions again, he'll probably fair better. But then that low bar to clear is low.
Between this, and what we've seen out of Florida's offense in recent weeks, we're going to be in for some really, really ugly football in Gainesville on Saturday night.